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Welfare and Health Policies in Europe and America in the 20th Century


Admission requirements

BSA norm and a pass for both first year Themacolleges


Obamacare shows that access to universal health care is a highly contested topic in the US, but the norm for most Europeans. Contrary to stereotypes, Iceland only spends 15 percent of its national income on social programs, whereas France spends almost twice as much. Parents in Estonia can get up to 87 weeks of paid parental leave, in Switzerland it is only 14 weeks.

These are just some examples for the vast differences in social safety nets across the globe. But the highly topical question of how to tackle social inequality is anything but new: In this seminar we will look at the history of welfare states and health policies in Europe and America, and ask why they took the shape which they did. Next to theoretical debates about different welfare systems, we will explore their ideational, political and economic foundations, characteristics and alterations. Case studies include the pioneering introduction of social insurance in late 19th century Germany, the role of labour unions and social democracy in the establishment of the so-called Nordic Model, Roosevelt’s New Deal in light of the Great Depression and the opposition of the American Medical Association towards public health care, and the foundations of the National Health Service in post-war Britain. In addition, we will discuss whether we can speak about a socialist model of welfare, the effects of neoliberalism on welfare provisions in European integration, and the role of international, private and charity organizations in Latin America. How did welfare states react to and affect social inequality? What is the role of political culture and solidarity? And what about exclusion – how did welfare states behave towards ethnic minorities, immigrants, long-term unemployed or persons with disabilities?

We will study book chapters and journal articles, but also primary sources such as legislative texts, speeches and media coverage, that shed light on how welfare systems and health policies were implemented and discussed.

This BA-Werkcollege is connected to the Kerncollege Global Connection.

Course objectives

General learning objectives

  • 1) carry out a common assignment

  • 2) devise and conduct research of limited scope, including
    a. searching, selecting and ordering relevant literature:
    b. organising and using relatively large amounts of information:
    c. an analysis of a scholarly debate:
    d. placing the research within the context of a scholarly debate.

  • 3) reflect on the primary sources on which the scholarly literature is based;

  • 4) write a problem solving essay and give an oral presentation after the format defined in the Syllabus Themacolleges, including
    a. using a realistic schedule of work;
    b. formulating a research question and subquestions;
    c. formulating a well-argued conclusion;
    d. giving and receiving feedback;
    e. responding to instructions of the lecturer.

  • 5) participate in discussions during class.

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialization

  • 6) The student has knowledge of a specialisation, more specifically:
    -in the specialisation General History : the place of European history from 1500 in a worldwide perspective; with a focus on the development and role of political institutions.

  • 7) Knowledge and insight in the main concepts, the research methods and techniques of the specialisation, more specifically of
    -in the specialisation General History: the study of primary sources and the context specificity of nationally defined histories;

Learning objectives, pertaining to this specific seminar

  • 8) Acquires understanding of the main models of the welfare state and historiographical interpretation of their formation and development

  • 9) Assesses the analytical tools to study and compare political, social and cultural impacts of welfare and health policies in different countries

  • 10) Acquires a deeper knowledge of the interconnections between social and political history


The timetable is available on the BA History website

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar (attendance required). This means that students have to attend every session of the course. If a student is not able to attend, he is required to notify the teacher beforehand. The teacher will determine if and how the missed session can be compensated by an additional assignment. If specific restrictions apply to a particular course, the teacher will notify the students at the beginning of the semester. If a student does not comply with the aforementioned requirements, he will be excluded from the seminar.

Course Load

Total course load 10 EC x 28 hours = 280 hours

  • Seminar attendance: 28 hours

  • Study of compulsory weekly literature (5h/week): 70 hours

  • Seminar presentations (individual and group): 16 hours

  • Assignments: 20 hours

  • Research paper (including literature study): 146 hours

Assessment method


  • Written paper (ca. 6000 words, based on historiography, including footnotes and bibliography)
    measured learning objectives: 2-4, 6-7

  • Oral presentation
    measured learning objectives: 3-4, 6-10

  • Participation
    measured learning objectives: 5

  • Assignment 1 (discussion essay 1)
    measured learning objectives: 1-3, 8-10

  • Assignment 2 (discussion essay 2)
    measured learning objectives: 1-3, 8-10


Written paper: 60%
Oral presentation (individual and group): 2 x 10%
Particiation: 10%
Assignment 1: 5%
Assignment 2: 5%

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average with the additional requirement that the written paper must always be sufficient.


Written papers should be handed in within the given deadline.


The written paper can be revised, when marked insufficient. Revision should be carried out within the given deadline.

Exam review

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • Course outline and general communication between lecturer and students

  • Seminar readings

  • Submission of assignments and final paper

Reading list

Literature will be announced in advance of the first meeting on Blackboard. Most readings will be provided via links to the University Library (articles and book chapters).


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


Anna Derksen


The course will be taught in English, providing the students with the possibility to enhance their language skills. Both literature and assignments (including the final paper) will be read/written in English.